Photo courtesy of Russ Anber’s Instagram account.
You have seen him working the corner for some of today’s top fighters, including Oleksandr Usyk, Vasyl Lomachenko, and Mick Conlan. But even if you don’t recognize his face, you will have seen his Rival boxing gloves adorning the hands of countless pugilists. I am referring to world-renowned trainer/cutman Russ Anber, who has been involved in boxing for more than 40 years now.
Under normal circumstances, Anber would be a member of Team Beterbiev this Friday when Artur defends his titles against Marcus Browne at the Bell Centre in Montreal. But unfortunately, Anber tested positive for Covid upon his return from New York City, where he was last weekend to support Lomachenko during his dominant decision win over Richard Commey. Although Anber won’t be in Beterbiev’s corner on December 17, he has been an essential part of the Russian native’s team since his pro debut in 2013.
Anber’s fascination with the sweet science began in 1976, when his hometown of Montreal hosted the Olympic Games. Add to that the release of Rocky that same year, and Anber was hooked. After a three-bout amateur career, he understood that his true calling was as a coach. Luckily for him, he was training at the Olympic Boxing Club, which was also the training home of Vinnie Curto, a world-rated middleweight from Massachusetts. Curto gave Anber a chance to be part of his team despite the fact that he was an 18-year-old neophyte just starting his journey as a trainer.
“If I had to pick the one guy who gave me the courage to pursue my dream, that was the first fighter I ever worked with, Vinnie Curto,” tells Anber. “Vinnie made me believe that I could be a great trainer. He accepted me and allowed me to work in his corner with Roger Larivee, who ran the Olympic Boxing Club. The second fight I ever worked as a pro was a main event at the Montreal Forum when Vinnie beat Eddie Mello on a 10-round shutout in November 1979. When the decision was announced, and Vinnie’s handlers raised him in the air, he leaned over to hug me. That did a lot for me, and I will never forget that moment. That hug was recognition for what I had done, and it was one of the greatest feelings ever. It’s like a drug. You always want to get that feeling again, and every time my guys fight and win, that’s how I feel.”
Anber continued coaching for many years, including guiding Otis Grant to a middleweight belt in 1997, but it wasn’t until after the 2004 Olympics that he began working solely as a cutman. At that time, respected Montreal trainer Marc Ramsay was training several Olympians out of Anber’s gym, and when Ramsay’s crew decided to turn pro, he asked Anber to be their cutman.
“The tide turned when Marc offered me the position of being a cutman within his team, and I gladly took it. We worked with many fighters together, including Jean Pascal, Antonin Decarie, Oscar Rivas, Eleider Alvarez, Artur Beterbiev, and many, many more” says Anber. “That was when I knew I would be changing my area of expertise.”
But it was only in 2011, after Anber released David Lemieux from his contract, that he officially stopped coaching full-time. One of the contributing factors that led to that decision was his desire to find a better work-life balance.
“What I enjoyed was the fact that I didn’t have to be in the gym every day. It started to be hard to run my business, work on television, have a family life, raise my daughter. All these things got very difficult to do when you’re in the gym every night. It had become a time in my life where after having devoted 30 years to it, I had accomplished what I set out to accomplish as a trainer. I had four Olympians and a world champion. I developed guys from the ground up and gone to the top. I was proud of that, but it was time to do something new. It transitioned perfectly because it allowed me to bring in my expertise without having the commitments of all the other stuff that had to go along with training a fighter. I felt like I was still a trainer in the gym, but I didn’t have to do all the other stuff like finding sparring partners, hotels, flights, etc.”
But even if Anber began focusing exclusively on tending to cuts and wrapping hands, those skills didn’t need polishing because he had already mastered them during his many years as a coach.
“When I started as a boxing trainer, it was the standard operating procedure that you learned to wrap hands and do cuts,” Anber explains. “That was one of the hallmarks of being a trainer. I had my scissors, cut kit, gauze pads, and all the stuff I needed because that was standard in those days. There wasn’t a specialized trade of cutmen; trainers were cutmen. It was only when you got to a high level that you brought in a special guy to do cuts. But the general practice was that most trainers could handle cuts, wrap hands, the whole bit. That was part of being a trainer.”
Anber wanted to be a great trainer, not just an average one. To do so, he needed other great trainers to assist him along the way. And he is the first to credit those men for helping him get to where he is now.
“Locally, the guys I learned from the most were Roger Larivee and Bernie Ewenson. Another guy that was a great mentor of mine was Tom McCluskey from Halifax, Nova Scotia. Tom trained Ralph Hollett, and I worked with them through Hollett’s championship reign. The guy who gave me a chance on the American side and was the first to accept me as an equal, God rest his soul, he is passed on now, was John Davenport with the Second Street Youth Center in Plainfield, New Jersey. Davenport was the guy who trained Lennox Lewis from his pro debut until the fight before he won the world title. I honed my craft working under Davenport. He was the quintessential example of a great cornerman, trainer, teacher, cutman, and hand-wrapper. He did it all. And that’s what we did in those days; you did it all. Dave doesn’t get nearly enough credit and recognition from the boxing world. He was a pure master. When I work corners now, I always have Dave on my mind.”
“Working with great cornermen taught me how to be in the corner. They taught me how to stand, how to flip the towel over my shoulder, how to prepare and carry the bucket. Those guys showed me the way to do it,” credits Anber. “I hate when things are not done right and when the corner isn’t working like a well-oiled machine. I hate when each man doesn’t do the job he’s supposed to because he’s just there as a fanboy or a friend. It’s an important job to take care of the fighters in the corner. And I am glad that I got to work with some great guys and watch them work. When I started coaching, people my age idolized fighters, whereas my heroes had a towel over their shoulder and a cotton swab in their mouth.”
If you want proof that Anber has become a great cornerman just like his heroes, look no further than Vasyl Lomachenko’s recent win against Masayoshi Nakatani.
“That was one of my most horrifying experiences,” admits Anber. “It’s the return of Lomachenko after the loss to Lopez. All the negative people asking, ‘What does Lomachenko have left?’ Nakatani is a former opponent of Lopez, and it is going to be a measuring stick. Bang—first round, Lomachenko’s face is covered in blood. When I got up on that apron and started working on the cut, I could feel the eyes of everybody who was around Lomachenko riveted on me. I could feel them burning. Whether it was the guys at Top Rank, his management, his lawyer, his agent, everybody is riveted on me because this is the first round. If I don’t get the blood stopped, they’re going to end it as a technical draw, and all that work will be for naught. I got it under control right away, and Lomachenko thanked me in his post-fight interview. That was the first thing they asked him about, and the first thing he says is he wants to thank his cutman, Russ Anber. So that’s nice; it’s what you live for.”
We know that Anber was able to control the cut and save the day for Lomachenko. But how did he do so? What is the sequential process he follows to stop the claret from flowing?
“The first thing you do is stay calm,” Anber said. “You have less than a minute because when you consider by the time the fighter gets back to the corner, there’s a few seconds gone, and they shoo you out of the ring five seconds before the bell rings, so you don’t even have a full minute to do your work. So the one thing Larivee taught me early on was not to panic.”
“Then there is no legal magic recipe or potion. Dry the wound, put pressure on it, add adrenaline, and cover it in Vaseline. That’s it. Everything I just described sounds easy, but it isn’t that easy under pressure when a fighter is sweating, hurt, or the guy working the corner with you decides to empty the water bottle on the fighter’s head while you’re trying to dry the wound. There are a lot of things that are not easy. The steps I described could be problematic with no pressure. Add to that being under the gun when the fight is on the line, and it’s a huge deal. It’s very challenging, and you have to do it right.”
Anber has done it right many times and he plans to continue doing it right for however long he has left in the sport he adores.